Archive | February, 2010

ObamaCare Part II: Push, Pull or Drag it to the Finish Line.

25 Feb

A certain someone asked me a few months ago whether I thought Obama was really a liberal president.  Of course I answered yes.  He then asked what Obama had done so far in office to make me think that.  After my usual sch-peel of, “well, what has he done period?” I listed a few minor policy changes that I view as far left.

Admittedly, after that conversation I thought it over again and decided that I may have been wrong. (I didn’t tell him that, but I guess the cat is out of the bag now) Despite what I may have been quick to think, at that point I felt that Obama had been a surprisingly centrist president.

But now, a few months later, I retract the ridiculous notion that Obama was actually going to govern from the center.  I’d like to take that thought, set it on fire and throw it out the window.

As always it comes down to health care reform.   We’ve all heard the sob story by now; the Democrats can’t get it passed and the Republicans are being nuisances.   Cue the image of Obama sitting in the Oval Office shaking his head at his bickering kids.  Poor Barack. No one wants to play nice.

When Bill Clinton proposed HillaryCare he faced similar opposition.  Republicans didn’t like it, voters didn’t get it and even some Democrats wouldn’t support it.  Sound familiar?  So the bill died and Clinton worked with both Democrats and Republicans to come up with less radical alternatives that made both parties moderately happy.  In other words, he started tweaking his policies and governing from the center rather than the left.

Obama, it seems, has yet to read that memo.  Unlike Clinton he’s breaking out the defibrillator and shocking his flawed bill back to life.  Again. Despite his plummeting approval ratings, lost elections and experts saying that the reform would be detrimental to the economy, he marches on.

The White House released a spruced up health care plan which fails to fix the real issue.  Americans have one main concern with health care – the rising costs.  Obama’s plan, chock full of regulations and mandates just doesn’t solve that problem.

His televised summit with the Republicans seems like a great way to convince the public he’s trying to compromise with both sides. The reality is he’s clearly intent on passing this bill quickly. There has been talk about using reconciliation, which would allow the Democrats to pass parts of the bill with only 51 votes.

Columnist David Corn commented that it is time to “crash the bill” over the finish line.  Do American’s really want a major overhaul of their health care system that has to be drop-kicked over legitimate concerns in order to be passed?

Obama needs to scrap his plan and start from scratch.  He should host a summit with Republicans but actually listen to what they have to say instead of showing up with a plan already set in motion.  Enough with the fake bipartisanship.  If he truly wants to lead and be elected for a second term, he must drop this radical reform and work with both parties to develop a more centrist approach to health care.

(Un)Clear Messages: How Obama is Losing Control of his Narrative

17 Feb

photocredit: Infrogmation

When Reverend Wright saturated the airwaves and Youtubeways in early 2008, many thought the Obama campaign was about to derail just as it gained its momentum. It ended up being one of the defining moments of his campaign for the presidency. The quiet, potentially unwieldy, elephant in the room was about to take center stage: Obama was black, and that could have radical implications.

The outcome was something few expected. Candidate Obama not only addressed the inflammatory rhetoric coming from the Rev. that had the potential of ending his until-then meteoric rise, but he raised the discussion beyond the political. He took control of the narrative of his campaign.

The administration has done a fairly good job so far at modulating its own voice. This White House has been one of the most well-behaved in recent memory; there is hardly any damning commentary or rebellious side chatter coming from any of the insiders. But that has hardly resulted in regaining the message control they had during the campaign. Obama’s White House has been prone to put blinders on and convincingly discuss a handful of issues, letting everyone else decide what to make of the rest. In doing so it has lost what made Obama such an appealing intellectual: a clear message.

The NYTimes pointed out today that the administration seems to finally be touting the virtues of the stimulus bill. This comes a year after almost every Republican has torn into it, calling it everything from “socialist” to “a failure” to a waste of government money; a year after the Tea Party movement used it as rabble-rousing fodder; a year of Americans thinking their taxes actually increased under Obama’s term; a year after Obama’s team spent too little time “selling” the stimulus to the American people before selling them a war, a reform, and a Supreme Court justice.

Whether the benefits of the stimulus are enough to reject the criticism is not the point. (Although, numbers supplied by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office suggests its positive impact is substantial). President Obama has been skillful at constructing persuasive messaging for many (but not all) topics, including himself. He is still much more popular than his policies or his party. His brand is still the most sellable in Washington. But his laser focus has left other priorities out in the cold. While he was using his charm under his own terms (Leno, magazine covers, George Lopez Show ads), he let the closure of Guantanamo become “dangerous” to Americans. While he explained how close we were to healthcare reform, he let Congress chop it up into something ineffable.

By letting the storyline for the stimulus, the ambitious first legislation that set the tone for the rest of his presidency, be told by everyone else, he forfeited control over most of his messaging from that point on. As a candidate, Obama zeroed in on an issue (Reverend Wright and race; Hillary Clinton and his inexperience; Bush and the economy; hope; reform) and steer into friendlier waters. As president, Obama has followed the same strategy, but as he himself noted when McCain suspended his campaign in order to save the economy, a president’s view must be multi-focal. A president must not only be everywhere and do everything simultaneously, but he must also set the tone for every conversation.

If Obama wants to retell America’s story of perseverance and resilience to the American people, he must be willing to finish telling it all the way through. Letting political opponents, or the unconverted who straddle loyalties, write out the storyline of any move coming out the White House muddles the narrative at best, changes the plot altogether at worst. Obama’s story–raised by a single mother, working his way up the Ive League and the political ladder–made him exceptional. Losing the message war means his story will have an abrupt, unsatisfying ending.

Pet the Grizzly

5 Feb

photocredit: mybulldog

There was a giddy frenzy going around Democratic circles last week. “Did you see Obama in that Q&A with the Republicans? He tore them apart!” A reason to cheer: the president had finally rid himself of the uber-nice bipartisan guise and put on that of a stern teacher tired of telling the class their paper is due tomorrow. That role probably came very naturally to him; the law professor really never left the building.

Cynicism could easily have set in after Obama’s breakthrough performance. Obama has dazzled his peers before. He has often also rolled up his sleeves and gotten back to the grind soon after the razzle dazzle. The latter is slightly less scintillating than the former. But this time, his administration has a new strategy: pet the grizzly.

Calling the Republicans in Congress a “Minority” is a disservice. Not necessarily to the party, but to the power of their obstruction. By being cantankerous and instinctively cranky (McCain, I am looking at you), the GOP has managed to have power when they have none; they have set the pace and outline of the agenda by just standing there, unwilling to budge. They are the grizzly, albeit a slightly lazy one with short, but potent bursts of rage.

Last week’s Q&A, the American version of the British Question Time, shook the grizzly awake.

After reminding the grizzly that it, too, has a role in government, Obama wants to show voters how willing he is to cooperate by being nice to this burdensome beast. He is, in a way, forcing them to make a move that doesn’t involve sitting back down. He invited Republican leadership to his Super Bowl party; he is seriously considering implementing some central GOP proposals into his healthcare reform package; he invited Republicans to a brainstorming meeting next week, as well as some trips to Camp David. Obama is being nice to the grizzly. So nice that any attack or disgruntlement on behalf of the GOP will make it the party to blame.

Whether this strategy will work or not is unknown. Republicans could easily brush this off as “faux bipartisanship,” as they have in the past; Obama could also throw his hands up in the air and go into street fighter mode (Chicago politics were his training ground). But this time, the president is going for a lasting effect. Even if the Republicans don’t play ball, he has already sowed the seed of mutual-responsibility in the mind of voters. Republicans, even in their minority status, are also in charge of governing. If Obama can make the argument that a minority is only as strong as it lets itself be, voters will start to share the blame, as they should. Republicans have coasted for too long on just saying “no.” Now they must at least say, “no, but…” Quite a stretch, even for the largest of mammals.

Is Obama a One Hit Wonder?

4 Feb

Obama was voted into office because he was different than the average candidate. He had the ability to enthuse the American people with his charming rhetoric and inspirational message of change.  In a time when the economy was sinking, job loss was skyrocketing and the country was at war Obama was able to offer hope for the future.  Voters ate it up, they believed in him. Here was a younger, fresher politician. A Washington outsider who would change the way the presidency was run.  A messiah, if you will, that would solve all of the country’s problems and make big changes.

In his State of the Union speech, Obama tried to recapture the mood of his campaign.  He reminded voters that he is on their side, not Washington’s side, and that he sympathizes with their concerns.  Only this time around, it was a hard sell.  A year of slow-moving decisions and failed health care reform has turned supporters into skeptics.  People just aren’t seeing the change that was the focus of his campaign.  The euphoria that the Democrats experienced after a successful, driven campaign has faded.

That being said, Obama is in danger of losing the support of a key demographic that could make or break an election: young voters.  Voters ages 18-29 turned out in record numbers for the 2008 election.  If the Democrats fail to come up with and pass a solid health care reform bill that people can actually support, these voters (who are the most likely to be affected by the bill) may pass on 2012 elections.

The state of the economy will without a doubt still be a major factor in the 2012. Even if the job market is improved, the country will still be far from recovered.  People lack patience; they want the economy fixed now.  If they don’t feel that there has been enough “change” they may wish to hedge their bets with the next Republican candidate that comes around (providing that it’s not someone with the name Palin.)  America is a nation that likes to place blame. Fingers were pointed at the Bush Administration and in 2012 they could very well be pointed at Obama.

Obama’s major downfall is his unwillingness to veer away from his extreme statist policies, even when they clearly aren’t working.   He’s attempting to push through a healthcare reform bill that just isn’t popular.  In 1996, Clinton stopped pushing HillaryCare and focused on bipartisan solutions.  Clinton realized that in order to accomplish anything, he needed to lean more towards the center and away from big government.

Scott Brown’s election win in Massachusetts is a prime example of America’s centrists view. Republicans have acknowledged that Brown appeals to independents and moderate democrats because he does not represent traditional republicanism.  Brown’s victory should be a wakeup call to Obama that at this point, the country is more moderate than left-leaning.

According to Polifact.com, Obama has broken 15 promises so far.  For a president who is dealing with a “deficit of trust” these broken promises are significant.  His new budget projection shows an increase from last year, a contradiction to his many statements that he would reduce spending.  Domestic discretionary spending was increased by 84 percent, a fact that Republicans are making noise about.  They are calling out his credibility and ability to lead, serious allegations when he’s already on a slippery slope.

If Obama doesn’t quickly re-evaluate his strategy and accept blame for failed policies, he could be opening the door for a Republican in 2012.  Because voters so passionately believed in him, they will easily be disappointed if he doesn’t do what is expected of him.  His campaign of change won’t be enough to carry him to another term if he can’t produce results.

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